Narration: When to do it when not to?

Sep 26, 2015

I've been asked to do some investigating on whether, or when, it is helpful for eLearning programs to be narrated for adult readers.

Please share your thoughts and/or research. Thank you!

5 Replies
Christy Tucker

In Clark and Mayer's eLearning and the Science of Instruction, they say that the research generally supports using narration with on-screen visuals. Adult learners retain more from the narration + visuals approach than from reading on-screen text. They call this the "modality principle."

Generally speaking, when you have narration, you shouldn't also have that same text on the screen. This is called the "redundancy principle." Clark and Mayer note some exceptions (pp. 87-88, 107-108 in the 1st ed):

  • Complex text like mathematical formulas may need to be both on-screen and in narration to aid memory. (In practical experience, I also do this for text that has to be memorized word for word, such as screening questions for addiction.)
  • Key words highlighting steps in a process or technical terms
  • Directions for practice exercises. "Use onscreen text without narration to present information that needs to be referenced over time, such as directions to complete a practice exercise."
  • When there are no graphics on the screen or limited graphics
  • When the audience has language difficulties (I have used redundant on-screen text for an audience with very low literacy and a high percentage of learners with English as a second language). It might be enough to simply provide a transcript or closed captions in those situations so people who don't need it can ignore or turn off the text.

In practical terms, I've found that if every page has narration and you suddenly have no narration for a practice exercise, some learners think something's broken on the page. I generally have the narrator say something short to introduce the practice exercise, but leave the directions as on-screen text.

However, it's also tiring to listen to a voice. I usually don't provide audio feedback on practice activities to give people a break. I'll sometimes provide other kinds of interaction to provide a break from the audio (tabs or "click to reveal" text).


Walt Hamilton

Building on what Christy said, I can't emphasize enough how much learning is hindered by a narrator reading the words that are on the screen. Clark and Mayer point out that visuals come to us through one brain channel, and words come through another. If we are trying to receive the  words both visually and audibly, it does not reinforce the content, it interferes with the content. I know, it seems counter-intuitive, but the evidence is pretty strong. Our word channel just is not large enough to allow for both visual and audible words to come through together.

Clark and Mayer do say that the most learning takes place when there is a narration explaining a visual on the same slide. We can handle the visual in one channel and the words in the other channel simultaneously.

To recap:

Worst: Narrator reading words on screen

Best: Narrator explaining pictures on screen.

Good luck selling that to clients. If you watch even a few presentations, the world is full of clients (or designers) who are not educators demanding a script that the narrator reads.

Jason Reed

The other thing I'd keep in mind is your own reading/learning practices. Consider how you consume content when you browse the web, read an email, read a book, look at a magazine/newspaper. You can easily take in and retain content visually without narration.

I don't want to discount what the others have said above, as the theories they site are sound. However, I'd be inclined to use voice over sparingly and when it will be most effective. Videos or animations/graphics are all good examples of when to use it.

Joe Waddington

The other thing to keep in mind is that adding narration will add to your development time. You can record directly into SL, but I'm of the mind that if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it right. I record narration using Audacity, edit out all the extra noise and bumps, and generally make it sound more "professional". Then I import the edited files into SL. The recording and editing will add time, and if you have a lot of narration, it can be significant amount.

Bob S

Let's not forget everyone's favorite topic.... updating modules.

With narration future changes/updates to modules can be more of a challenge.  It takes significantly longer to make simple updates, and if you are a stickler for continuity then you may feel tied to a particular narrator's voice for the lifespan of the module.

Not saying narration isn't wonderful; it most certainly can be!  Just a reminder for those of us that have to maintain the courseware over a period of time that it is something to consider.

This discussion is closed. You can start a new discussion or contact Articulate Support.